Bernardo O'Higgins: A True Son of Chile

The Unknown Boy Who Turned into a Great Leader

One day, our family was walking in Santiago, Chile when my dad spotted a street called Avenida Libertador General Bernardo O'Higgins. We thought the name was kind of funny for a Chilean street, and we laughed about it for a couple of days. Then my dad gave me an assignment to  research this Bernardo O’ Higgins and find out who he was. So I did.

O'Higgins Family Backstory

Ambrosio O'Higgins. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Ambrosio O'Higgins. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The story of Bernardo O'Higgins starts with his father, Ambrosio. Ambrosio O’Higgins was a poor farm boy who lived in Ireland with his parents. At the age 30, he moved to a town in Chile and, after saving money at his many jobs, met a rich lady named Isabel Ricquelme. Isabel was only 16 at the time and it was love at first sight. Although back then, a man or woman from outside South America was not allowed to marry a man or woman inside South America.

So, instead they had a child. This child’s name was Bernardo O’ Higgins, and he grew up never meeting his father because Ambrosio had become the First Marquis of Osorno and governor of Chillán, a Chilean town.

Bernardo O’ Higgins: Early Life

Bernardo O'Higgins. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Bernardo O'Higgins. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Bernardo O’ Higgins was not an only child. After Ambrosio left Isabel, she married Felix Rodriguez and had another child, Rosa Rodriguez, when Bernardo turned 17. Felix died a year later in 1782. Ten years later (1792), Isabel married another Chilean man with the name Manuel de Puga y Figueroa and had yet another daughter. She was given the long name of Maria de las Nieves de Puga y Figueroa. So Rosa and Maria were Bernardo’s half sisters.

When Bernardo grew up, he moved in with the Albano family, his father's commercial partners in Peru, but never got to meet his father. Occasionally he would get letters, but never saw his father in person. Ambrosio did love Bernardo and that's all that made Bernardo happy.

Bernardo O’Higgins Becomes Wealthy

In 1801, Ambrosio died in Peru, leaving Bernardo many acres of land in the town of Laja—near the Chilean (not Californian) town of Los Angeles. Bernardo started a new life as a farmer on the land that his father had passed down to him.

In 1806, Bernardo was assigned to the cabildo* as a representative of Laja, and he did that for two years until Napoleon took over Spain, leaving his brother Joseph on the throne instead of King Ferdinand VII. Chile was a Spanish colony, and the Chilean people didn't want Joseph on the throne, so they set up their own temporary government. However Bernardo wanted Chilean independence instead.

Bernardo O'Higgins Becomes Famous

Using the money his father passed down to him, he started an army to attack the royalists.
Bernardo won some battles, then was put in charge of the army. Then he lost some battles because he was outnumbered and his troops weren't as well trained as the royalists, so he fled to Argentina with many other Chileans to regroup and plan out a better way to attack the royalists. He trained his men for three years then marched over the Andes Mountains with thousands of well-trained men and defeated the royalists In Santiago.

After this victory, Bernardo was named the Supreme Director of Chile. As Supreme Director, Bernardo created the Chilean Navy and started to evolve the city by making colleges, hospitals, and courts. But not everyone was happy with Bernardo's decisions, and after lots of buildings were created, Bernardo resigned and moved to Peru.

Cause of Death

Bernardo died 1842 back in Peru, because of an unfortunate heart failure. He lived a good 64 years.

Index (words I learned while learning about Bernardo):

  • *Cabildo: A town council, or local government council; town hall.
  • Marquis: A nobleman ranking above a count, and below a duke.
  • Napoleon: A Frenchman who joined a conspiracy and took over France, Spain, and several other countries.
  • Royalists: People in a colony still loyal to the king.


has an adventurous spirit and is usually up for anything. She likes to play soccer in different places around the world.

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Bernardo O'Higgins: A True Son of Chile
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